City of Rocks State Park
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State Park City of Rocks State Park was established in May 1952. The park encompasses a one- square- mile area in the scenic Chihuahuan desert region of southeastern New Mexico at the elevation of 5,200 feet. The “city” is a truly geologic monument formed by large sculptured rock columns, or pinnacles, rising as high as 40 feet and separated by paths or lanes resembling city streets. These rocks were formed about 34.9 million years ago when a very large volcano erupted. Then, erosion over millions of years slowly formed the sculptured columns seen here today.
The facilities at the park include camp sites (10 with electrical and water hookups), hiking trails, picnic areas and a desert botanical garden. The uniquely designed, new Visitor Center/ Office Complex includes a large display area and modern restrooms with hot showers.
More than 50,000 people visit the park each year during all four seasons. The winters are mild, and trees and rocks provide shade to cool visitors during the hot summers.
City of Rocks State Park is in the Mimbres Valley of the Chihuahuan desert and typical vegetation and wildlife abound. Yuccas, barrel and hedgehog cacti, ocotillo, New Mexico agave, desert bird-of-paradise, and desert willow are common in the park. Growing among the rocks are Emory and gray oak. After a wet winter or after a spring or summer rainstorm, numerous varieties of wildflowers abound.
At least 35 species of birds call this rock “city” their home. These include the bald and golden eagles, hawks, horned owls, cactus wrens, roadrunners, and finches. Many of these birds nest in the cavities and crevasses in the rocks.
Ground squirrels, chipmunks, jackrabbits, cottontails, kangaroo mice, and packrats also claim the “city” as their home. Coyotes are also frequent visitors to the park.
Snakes are very common in and around the park. These include the Western diamond- back rattlesnake, the prairie rattlesnake, the mojave green rattlesnake, bull snakes, garter snakes, and occasionally, hognose snakes. Numerous varieties of lizards, including the collared lizard and the plateau lizard are also common in the park. Other familiar sightings include the desert tortoise, scorpions and tarantulas.
Prehistoric people most likely camped thousands of years ago beneath the rocks that provided shelter from the elements and predators. The Mimbres, or Mimbreno Indians settled in the area about 750 - 1250 A. D. Arrowheads and pottery shards are still found today, reminding us of their former presence. Mortars - small, smoothsided cylindrical to conical holes, are found in the rocks along the trail in the northern part of the park as well as elsewhere. These mortars are sometimes called “Indian wells” because water collects in the holes. These were formed over many years by prehistoric Indians grinding seeds with stone manos. Indian grinding stones are also found along the trails.
Later, Apache Indians moved into the area. Spanish explorers and settlers arrived in the 1500’s. In 1804, Colonel Manuel Carrasco, a Spanish army officer, began mining copper at Santa Rita. Mule trains loaded with copper from the mine passed near what is now the state park on their way to Chihuahua from 1804 to 1834.
After the Mexican War of 1846- 1847, the Mormon Battalion under Captain Philip St. George Cooke blazed a trail south of the park to link newly acquired New Mexico and Arizona with the eastern United States. The mountain range southeast of City of Rocks is named Cooke's Range after Captain Cooke. The prominent peak in the southern part of the range is Cooke's Peak.